Thinker's Corner

Identity and Politics (Centre for Reform, Horseferry Road, London SW1P 2AF, 0171-222 5121). Just as we all fell asleep over our rebranded Britishness, this paper prods us between the ribs. Modernisation is not a monopoly of new Labour, Michael Ignatieff reminds us, and the government's preoccupation with identity is not just a hobby-horse. People's political allegiances and involvement are shaped by their perceptions of what Britain stands for and how they relate to it. The 20th century has been a conservative one because the Tories successfully created symbols around which people could rally. Now the British identity is in flux again, there is a social conversation about how Britain should be. The government portrays itself as synonymous with the idea of modernisation, but there is a danger that Labour's brave new world will be one of control-freakery. That's why it is up to liberals to make sure that a new identity celebrates the freedom of its people rather than the management skills of its government.

Rich Mix: inclusive strategies for urban regeneration (Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Contact School of Planning, Oxford Brookes University, Gypsy Lane, Oxford OX3 0BP, 01865 483450). Sue Brownill and Jane Darke state what should be obvious: that urban regeneration must take issues of race and gender into account. Ethnic minorities and women are over-represented in deprived areas, but too often regeneration agencies fail to involve them in their efforts. Research sheds light on important differences; for example, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Afro-Caribbean males run a higher risk of unemployment than Indian and Chinese men. Expectations differ, too: often, Asian communities put a higher premium on housing and security than on employment. Women may have no say in certain communities and it is important that they are given a space to express themselves. All this is eminently sensible. It is also unashamedly minimalist; gone are the days of war on poverty. We have moved from elimination to amelioration.

This article first appeared in the 20 November 1998 issue of the New Statesman, A prejudice as American as apple pie

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.